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You know, a hundred years ago, propaganda wasn’t a dirty word. It was linked to authority. Propaganda refers to the art of persuasion. 2500 years ago we called it eloquence. Attention then turned to the speaker demonstrating a skill.

Now. When you hear propaganda, you now mainly think of an idea or ideal that is being forced upon you, if necessary unnoticed.

Around 1930 propaganda was huge. In the US, Bernays then describes how effective commercial propaganda works. In Germany, Hitler knew how to handle it for his extreme identity politics. And in China, the Yan’an corrections were invented which proved to be an overwhelming propaganda tool for communism.

I don’t know much about that period in China, but came across a syllabus via Google (in which Ding Ling plays a supporting role):

An example made: Wang Shiwei was a communist writer who strongly believed in social justice and was shocked at the coercion by CCP leaders, and their somewhat hypocritical lifestyle. He wrote an article to this effect and Mao backed other party leaders in condemnation of him, Mao suspecting him of being of the intellectual class(thinkers, not doers). Wang was subjected to a show trial after his last supporter, Ding Ling (a feminist writer) had abandoned him (under pressure). He was accused of anti party thinking and was given a life sentence, though executed in 1947 (in a very gruesome manner).

Internetbron, The Yan’an Period and the Xi’an Incident 1935-1945 (anonymous, gerelateerd) geraadpleegd op 22 april 2021

I believe that propaganda (Bernays, 1928) was initially something that could be learned and studied independently of the content of the ideal to be conveyed. Just as logic is an art that can be learned and studied, regardless of the content of what is being reasoned about.

Wikipedia summarizes Bernay’s book, from which I quote:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

Bernays expands this argument to the economic realm, appreciating the positive impact of propaganda in the service of capitalism.

“A single factory, potentially capable of supplying a whole continent with its particular product, cannot afford to wait until the public asks for its product; it must maintain constant touch, through advertising and propaganda, with the vast public in order to assure itself the continuous demand which alone will make its costly plant profitable.”

Wikipedia geraadpleegd op 22 april 2021

From a propaganda perspective, democracy, the market and communism are the results of one art, the art of manipulation, but intelligently and conscientiously. The results of one art, but under different conditions. Is that cynicism or a sense of reality, of heresy perhaps?

I do not know. Those who believe in an ideal can hold on to it despite strong opposition.

This does not only apply to those who believe that the Rutte government is manipulating us intelligently, conscientiously and democratically.

This also applies to those who tend towards neo-Nazism.

And so it applies to Ding Ling, who joined the communist movement in China in the 1930s after her husband was executed for supporting communism. All her life she remained faithful to the communist ideal (as she helped shape it in Yan’an), even in those days when the most important of her personal views were not tolerated by party leadership. Her (thoroughly ironical) idealized description of a communist female life (Du Wangxiang, 1978) provides a glimpse into what that ideal must have been in Yan’an at the time. Yet, it is not an indictment, not even after twenty years of isolation in Manchuria.